Shalala v. Whitecotton, 514 U.S. 268, 7 (1995)

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Opinion of the Court

occurred after vaccination. 17 F. 3d, at 376. This statement simply does not square with the plain language of the statute. In laying out the elements of a prima facie case, the Act provides that a claimant relying on the table (and not alleging significant aggravation) must show that "the first symptom or manifestation of the onset . . . of [her table illness] . . . occurred within the time period after vaccine administration set forth in the Vaccine Injury Table." 300aa-11(c)(1)(C)(i). If a symptom or manifestation of a table injury has occurred before a claimant's vaccination, a symptom or manifestation after the vaccination cannot be the first, or signal the injury's onset. There cannot be two first symptoms or onsets of the same injury. Thus, a demonstration that the claimant experienced symptoms of an injury during the table period, while necessary, is insufficient to make out a prima facie case. The claimant must also show that no evidence of the injury appeared before the vaccination.

In coming to the contrary conclusion, the Court of Appeals relied on language in the table, which contains the heading, "Time period for first symptom or manifestation of onset . . . after vaccine administration." 42 U. S. C. 300aa-14(a) (1988 ed., Supp. V). The Court of Appeals saw a "signifi-cant" distinction, 17 F. 3d, at 376, between this language and that of 42 U. S. C. 300aa-11(c)(1)(C)(i), which is set forth above. We do not. The key to understanding the heading is the word "onset." Since the symptom or manifestation occurring after the vaccination must be evidence of the table injury's onset, an injury manifested before the vaccination could qualify only on the theory that it could have two onsets, one before the vaccination, one after it. But it cannot: one injury, one onset. Indeed, even if the language of the heading did conflict with the text of 300aa-11(c)(1)(C)(i), the latter would prevail, since the table heading was obviously meant to be a short form of the text preceding it.

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